Spain ready for Italy clash, says Iniesta
Paris, June 24 (IANS) Spain's veteran midfielder Andres Iniesta believes that facing a high-calibre opponent like Italy in the pre-quarterfinal can only be a boost to his team's chances of retaining the European football championship.
A shock 1-2 defeat to Croatia in their last Group D left the title holders in second place and set up a second-round rematch of the 2012 Euro final, which Spain won 4-0 in Kiev.
Barcelona's midfield maestro Iniesta is relishing the challenge that awaits in Paris on Monday and believes it will bring the best out in a squad bidding to win the tournament for an unprecedented third time in a row.
"They're a powerful rival, a difficult rival, and it will be a good game. It's a game that will be useful to us if we are to keep developing and taking steps in these Euros," Iniesta was quoted as saying by goal.com on Thursday.
"Aside from the final four years ago, all of our games have been very closely fought out. Italy has excellent players and a great defensive block we've known about for a long time," the 32-year-old, part of Spain's 2008 and 2012 Euro-winning team, added.
"Contrary to what I hear people saying, they also improved a great deal in terms of possession and ball-handling. They really stepped up, which makes the game on Monday even more complex and our aspirations even more difficult."
Iniesta conceded that Spain would have preferred to win their group, as they have landed in the stronger bottom half of the draw as a result, with Germany potentially awaiting in the quarter-finals.
"This is how things went, we lost and now we've got to deal with Italy. We must face this situation with the appropriate confidence, because I believe that if we play at our level then we have some good chances of passing into the next round," the 2010 World Cup winner said.
"It hasn't gone well, but we must continue, nothing has happened. We're on the more complicated side of the draw in theory but we are Spain and we have to remain confident."